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Leonardo Reviews: The Challenge of Surrealism

By Kieran Lyons
Leonardo Reviews

The Challenge of SurrealismTheodor Adorno's lecture during the Berlin student protests of 1967 proved something of a flashpoint for those attending. The lofty theme on the relevance of Goethe's Ipheginie claiming for the play a parallel with the social unrest currently triggering demonstrations at universities in France and Germany seemed provocative and irrelevant. The ensuing protests signaled a decline in his ability to influence radical debate and his reluctance to exploit tensions over the death of a student in police operations during the Shah of Iran's visit only served to make matters worse. His determination to continue as planned may have contributed to the fracas that followed but in the circumstances, it was surely the rubric of this formal lecture-any formal lecture-sending its message of business-as-usual within elite surroundings that so inflamed the already volatile audience. Later Elisabeth Lenk would note that: "Adorno found himself in the situation of someone who has shown the way but, to the students' disappointment, isn't marching in the direction he points toward." Lenk was Adorno's doctoral student, his political acolyte and his committed student of critical theory, and her recollection comes with the hindsight of an established position after almost 50 years.

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The Challenge of Surrealism